In September and October 2023, Francisca Gale, Research and Scrutiny Support Manager of Tynwald, Isle of Man, travelled to Montserrat for a clerk attachment. She supported the Access Special Committee, and shares her experience below:
The assignment sounded like a unique opportunity to apply my skills as a Committee Clerk in the context of another small parliament. I spent several years as Assistant Clerk and then Clerk to Tynwald’s Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee, so I had some experience of dealing with inquiries on transport issues and other technical subjects. Plus, I currently clerk Select (i.e. temporary) Committees so I’m used to getting to grips with any subject that might come up.
Anyone who has been to Montserrat will know that flying into John A. Osbourne airport is an experience! It was also a good introduction to the inquiry — especially since I was to learn a lot about the Islander aircraft over the next few weeks…
I arrived in time for the first week of oral hearings. Although this is the first inquiry of this type to be undertaken by a Committee of the Assembly, the Members were well prepared and asked lots of incisive questions. Over the next few weeks I assisted the Clerk with preparing for the next oral hearings, following up in writing on evidence heard, and getting the hearings transcribed through the resources available to Tynwald’s Hansard service.
I spent a lot of time reading through the evidence already gathered. The Committee had held several town hall meetings, a call in on the local radio station, and other meetings with local civil society groups, which had all been recorded and transcribed. I was impressed that the Committee had also made sure to get the views of young people and children, a group often left out by more traditional methods of gathering evidence.
While travel is an important topic for all islands, as I got more familiar with life in Montserrat it became clear just how critical this issue was for the community. The Island is still dealing with the aftermath of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano in 1995, which destroyed the existing air and sea infrastructure and limited the options available for development. The inquiry also touched on bigger questions about the Island’s status as an Overseas Territory and its relationship with the United Kingdom.
By the end of the assignment, I had drafted a skeleton report with some draft conclusions and recommendations for the Committee to consider. This helped to identify where there were still some gaps in the evidence and which areas the Committee would like to focus on going forward.
There is still some way to go until the inquiry and report will be finished. However, I’m looking forward to continuing to support the Committee with its work.
This clerk attachment was a continuation of the work of the UK Overseas Territories Project (UKOTP), which aims to support good governance and oversight of public finances in the UK Overseas Territories. The project is delivered by CPA UK, in partnership with the National Audit Office and Government Internal Audit Agency.